Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah announces task force to address teen pregnancy problem

A slew of measures will be initiated to check the abuse of girls, especially in government-run residential schools.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Apr 24, 2024 | 6:59 AM Updated Apr 24, 2024 | 7:02 AM

Child marriages, sexual abuse by relatives, love affairs, the lack of sexual awareness, and no proper crime-reporting systems are the major reasons for the increase in teenage pregnancies. (Representational image/iStock)

Eleven months, 28,657 underage pregnancies. It meant more than 2,600 cases a month!

South First‘s headline screamed the startling reality, Karnataka has a teen pregnancy problem, on 20 January 2024.

Considering the problem, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has now announced the formation of a central task force.

Earlier, the central government’s Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) portal had reported 28,657 girls aged below 18 getting pregnant between January and November 2023.

Residential schools under watch

In a directive on 15 April, Siddaramaiah highlighted the need for a synergistic approach to curtail instances of adolescent pregnancies.

The directive was issued to seven pivotal departments, including Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, and Primary and Secondary Education.

The chief minister underscored the importance of uplifting the morale of pregnant girls and suggested senior officials’ active participation in the task force.

Siddaramaiah placed special emphasis on the security and well-being of girls in hostels, mandating strict CCTV surveillance and regular health check-ups.

Expressing concern over young girls in government residential schools getting pregnant, the chief minister asked the departments to ensure vigilant monitoring of absenteeism among students at the taluk and district levels.

The surveillance is to identify and support at-risk individuals.

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Reasons for teen pregnancies

Reports held child marriage, sexual assaults, and a lack of sexual awareness responsible for the burgeoning cases of pregnancies.

Siddaramaiah stressed the importance of a coordinated effort among various departments to combat the issue at the grassroots level and to actively engage the legal framework to address the disturbing trend.

Child rights activists and experts told South First that child marriages, sexual abuse by relatives, love affairs, the lack of sexual awareness, and no proper crime-reporting systems were the major reasons for the increase in teenage pregnancies.

The RCH portal said Bengaluru urban reported the highest number of teen pregnancies (2,815) in 11 months, followed by Belagavi (2,254) and Vijayapura (2,004).

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Tip of the iceberg

Executive Direct of Child Rights Trust Vasudeva Sharma earlier told South First that these numbers meant the cases were being noticed. She attributed it to the campaigns done by the trust and other government agencies.

However, Sharma hastened to add that the figures available could be the tip of the iceberg. He called for rigid monitoring for a clear understanding of the gravity of the situation.

He had then called for the formation of a task force to observe the trend and prevent such pregnancies.

Shashidhar Kosambe, a member of the Child Rights Protection Committee had also demanded a collective effort involving various departments to stop child marriages, child abuse and create sexual awareness among students.

Also Read: Hostel warden arrested for sexually harassing minor boys

Simplify reporting process

Several experts South First spoke to stressed the need to make reporting crimes against children, including child marriages, an easy process. Children were scared to report to authorities, and it should change, they said.

Addressing the technical challenges in the existing system, the chief minister advocated the simplification of reporting procedures for teen pregnancies, particularly in private healthcare settings.

Siddaramaiah proposed the development of a centralised system to better document and manage information on such cases.

Also Read: Telugu states have high prevalence of high-risk pregnancies

CM moots sex education

Moreover, Siddaramaiah called for enhanced sex education through media channels, aiming to reach parents and children with clear and effective messaging.

He also emphasised the importance of awareness programmes focusing on self-defense, the detriments of child marriage, and the physical development of children.

The legal aspects have not been overlooked. The over-the-counter sale of Schedule-H drugs, such as abortion pills, would be strictly dealt with legally.

Several NGOs and child-rights activists appreciated the government’s move. They expressed optimism about better implementation of child protection laws to follow the initiative.

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The task force’s responsibilities

  • Monitor female students in government residential hostels using CCTV cameras.
  • Mandatory monthly health check-ups for all students.
  • Students returning from extended leave must undergo health examinations.
  • Education on physical changes.
  • Educators to promptly investigate any student absences.
  • District-level officers responsible for overseeing these protocols.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).